Deceased May 14, 2019
Len Newcomb died on May 14 in Boston. He had been incapacitated for several years with a progressive cognitive disorder akin to Alzheimer’s disease but throughout it all retained the same kind and gentle personality and subtle sense of humor that we all remember so well.
Throughout his life, Len honed and then used his many skills as an artist, woodworker and draftsman. He worked for a number of years with a Boston landscape architecture firm and from 1976 to 2009 was a professor of landscape architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, where he was professor emeritus at the time of his death. He was beloved by his students, who described him in ways that all of us who knew him at Amherst can understand and appreciate: ”my greatest teacher,” “brilliant and witty,” “a voice of reason and a calming force” and “someone who taught me that if we chose to, we could learn from everyone and everything we came in contact with.”
A highlight of Len’s work at RISD came when he lived for two years in Rome as the chief critic for its programs there, an engagement that also produced many skilled and subtle drawings of some of Rome’s wonderful gardens, sculpture and architecture.
Len and his wife, Lynn, whom many of us doubtless remember from Amherst days (the story is that they were first introduced in the fall of 1956 when they were freshmen at Holyoke and Amherst respectively, after someone commented on the nearly identical names), lived in Boston for many years, where they raised their two children, Jesse and Sarah. I have vivid memories of arriving one day at their first (two-room, walk-up) apartment in the North End at bath time for Jesse, when the main event was in full swing in the kitchen sink. In later years they acquired a row house in the South End. The house provided a design laboratory for Len, and over the years, he never seemed to be without some sort of ongoing renovation project there, usually undertaken with his own two hands.
During the last few years, after his cognitive difficulties had surfaced and he was in an assisted-living facility near our home, Len’s eyes always brightened when I mentioned someone or something related to the College. He was a quiet man, but he had strong emotions and among them were his deep appreciation of his experience at Amherst and his affection for the lifelong friends he made there.
Tom Urmy ’60